☕️ Going in Circles

Reflection. Best of lists. Highlights. Anticipation. Resets and resolutions. So many rituals connected to the ordering our lives on the foundation of time. We live into chronology like we traverse airports on moving walkways, the past recedes as we are perpetually propelled forward. Life becomes a timeline, the significant moments labeled and dated, new years noted as harbingers of progress.

This metaphor works because it is not wholly inaccurate, but it falls short of explaining the full-orbed experience of life. Life, like time, is also cyclical. The hands on the clock circle round and round measuring minutes and hours. The earth rotates as it circles the sun, measuring days and months, seasons and years. My own life is better understood through recognizing its cycles than by resolutely marching down the number-line of accumulated age and years.

Progress occurs through returning again and again to perspectives that continually shift and grow or shrink as more learning and living inform my understanding and my choices. Growth is less linear, and more a circling back to build on what was before. Sometimes to scrap and start anew. Sometimes simply to try again. Sometimes to repeat what didn’t work last time only to experience despair or self-recrimination…again. Cycles can create ruts, and dangers lurk there to be sure.

And maybe this is why we often use the metaphor of “going in circles” to describe lack of progress, lostness, “stuckness.” We can certainly experience all of these at any given time, but what if going in circles could also mean building layers of learning, like the rings of a tree. Or patterns of beauty like the concentric circles of a chrysanthemum. Or habits of faith like the woven materials of a sturdy bird’s nest. What if going in circles means recognizing repeating seasons and being more intentional about how we cycle through them. Or, especially in our relationships with God and others, what if it means rotating on the axis of a deepening love, commitment, and understanding. What if going in circles is about growth rather than stagnation. What if.

As we spiral our way through the days and year ahead, may our circles be as wide and wondering or as narrow and tight and focused as needed to let our hearts be tilled, planted, and watered by God’s good work in us. May we return again and again to what is good and true and right, and turn away always from what is not. May our wounds gain another layer of healing. May our cycles of grief be buoyed by hope and comfort. May our ruts be filled in with the core layers of repentance, grace, humility, forgiveness, and belonging. May we collect treasures of joy and goodness in each loop and lap and curve. May we know above all, that the God who first ordered time into morning and evening, days and years makes “everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.”

I’ll spend the next years of my life circling back to ponder the implications of that last sentence. Which is exactly what was intended, I think.

Here’s to going in circles…

🌐 The Flat World & Me

This flat world we hold in our palms does not spin, but it pulls us into its orbit through tap, swipe, scroll and makes our minds spin with endless images and trivial-alarming-banal-important-irrelevant information that somehow becomes real and alluring, exciting and vital.

How did we ever live before flat worlds became our whole world?

At what moment did I choose to be a spectator rather than a participant with the grit of gravel under my boots, the smudge of earth on my jeans, my face, my hands?

At what point did I sink into mere consumerism rather than developing the skill and patience of observing and notating the non-pixelated, unfiltered, uncropped?

I need the uncurated world. I need to see the forest and the logged-off cut blocks, the fields and the gas plants and pump jacks, the emerald-green lakes and the ones stale-green with algae, the wheat and the weeds. I need the lush green of meadows and rancid road-kill in ditches and delicate flowers and gooey mud and birds and rodents.

Place is all of this and more, and it is too rich and full to fit into pixels or the binary codes of the flat world. Pixels tell me nothing about the sandpaper rub of dirt between my fingers, the feathery tickle of a bird eating sunflower seeds from my hand, or the pleasant shock of the wind whipping my breath away. Binary code tells me nothing about the actual lived-life of the person who used flesh-and-blood fingers to tap the text that bubbles on my screen. However connected we are in the flat world (and we certainly are connected — often in very helpful and important ways), something is always lacking. Emoji libraries will never be large enough for our whole selves.

To know place is to be rooted in the particularity of place and people and community rather than spinning through the dizzying orbit of text-tap-swipe-scroll-snap-chat. To know place is to hold it in the muscle memory of experience, not just the visual memory of a social media feed.

To clarify, this is not meant to be a rant against technology. It would be hypocritical of me to decry what I myself use. For several years now, I have pursued a goal to understand more fully what it means to be rooted in the place where God has put me, and my words here are simply my reflection on how that is going. Sometimes I need to remind myself to stay grounded, keep my orbit small in scope but deep in wonder. The flat world invites me to a voyeuristic curiosity; being rooted in a particular place encourages the curiosity that leads to deeper knowing and understanding and gratitude.

I want to know this place better through exploring the physical world around me, whether that is by identifying birds in the marsh or bushwacking up a mountain or tending a garden or watching the snow fall in a silent parade of delicately formed flakes.

I want to know this place deeper by listening to people I can reach out and touch. I want to hear their stories — ones of origin and ones of becoming and brokenness and restoration and everything in-between. I want to be better at seeing behind the behaviours and the bravado to understand the particularities of place and experience that have shaped lives.

And very simply, the more time I spend in the flat world, the less time I have for this beautiful, wonderful, wounded, scarred, floundering and flourishing world that surrounds me on all sides. This is where I belong and I want to live here with wisdom and with grace.

Poems for November

When life gets busy and overwhelming, I start looking for poems, which forces me to notice things and find words to capture them and today I found this:

Saturday’s frost still
crouches in shadowy
crevices, determined
to win the daily game
of hide-and-seek
with the sun.
Today is Tuesday.

And then I found this:

In a fading blue sky
flocked with geese flying south
a single goose
breaks rank,
goes east
alone.
I wonder why.

📝 Living in the Mist

October is coming to a close. The leaves are rarely in the trees, mostly on the ground. Mornings and evenings are chilly and often frosty. Some days the chill stays even when the frost doesn’t — yet. Some snow has come and gone. Soon it’ll come and stay. Most mornings are shrouded in heavy fog, which makes the already dark drive to school in the morning even darker. They’ve been re-paving a section of the route I drive and haven’t repainted the lines yet, just some dots to show where the center line should be. Dark, fog, no guiding lines to reflect the boundaries of the road…feels a bit like life sometimes. We do indeed live by a kind of faith, whether we want to admit it or not, I think.

There has been much to be thankful for in this past month, but not necessarily any more or less than other months. We just are more open to a collective sort of thanks-giving when we’re given a day off work to reflect on all the things we should be grateful for and probably are, but maybe those things aren’t always the truly important things and maybe we still mostly take everything for granted. Maybe. And maybe stress and Hard Things grind the shine off our thanksgiving and we feel ashamed to be offering something so worn and bedraggled when really this sort of thanks-giving is probably the most authentic and honest of them all.

Yes, I do have much to be thankful for, and yes, my gratitude has some worn edges and stretch marks and too much of the month felt like driving through the dark in the fog on a road that still needs lines painted on. You’ll likely hear echoes of this in this month’s Jots & Doodles. I struggled to come up with an overarching theme for this issue, partly because I didn’t want to just default to thanksgiving because Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October. I want to encourage thanksgiving as an attitude of the heart beyond a certain day of a certain month. So the Jots are not connected to a theme and neither are the Doodles, for that matter, but they do reflect some of my thinking and observations over the past few weeks. I’ve been challenged and encouraged…and I’m still processing (and probably always will) what it means and what it looks like when I say that I live a life of faith in God, the only truly Faithful One.

Jots & Doodles Volume 1 Issue 10 can be found here, or by going to the Jots & Doodles page from the main menu. Maybe you’ll find some words that resonate with you and encourage you. I hope so.

The Stories We Keep

One of the reasons I write is because I need to process things, to get ideas out of my head and on paper where I can begin to make sense of them or discover some new perspective. Although most of my “processing” remains in my notebooks, I write here because I want to invite others to think and ponder along with me. But we are more than just processors of ideas and questions and observations. We are storytellers and story-keepers. Our lives are anthologies of stories bound together and nestled into a larger, grander story whose opening line is “In the beginning, God…”

I keep stories that have changed my life or perspective, forged new growth or wisdom, or made me laugh or smile. Stories can do all of these and more. Above all, stories anchor me to my place in the world. From time to time, I want to revisit some of these stories, not because my life is anything special, but because, actually, it is. And so is yours.

I’ve done some housekeeping here at Sola Gratia. You’ll find a new page just for stories – some of mine, and hopefully some of yours as well. Soon you’ll also find a page just for Jots & Doodles — Volume 1 Issue 3 will be available soon!

☕️ Messes & Marvels

A Saturday Caesura

This morning I sat down and wrote some thoughts for this caesura. Thoughts about vulnerability and virus variants and stuck supertankers and murder and violence and other egregious acts against fellow human beings. I wrote a lot of words, but I don’t think they were very coherent. Sometimes I just need to dump everything on a page and let it sit there in a mess for a while. Someday when I will come back to the word-tangle, maybe there will be a clear line of thought that is worth unravelling.

So today’s caesura is not about those thoughts, but about some images from this week. Images like the tiny “hairs” lining the edges of a baby lupine leaf. The lupine is in my classroom at the moment, escaping the heat of the greenhouse until it’s warm enough outside to give it a more permanent home in my yard. I noticed the hairs because they caught the early morning light coming through the window and created a halo around each leaf frond. The glow drew me in for a closer look. Remarkable.

In true northern prairie fashion, it snowed on the day after the first day of spring and I don’t want to talk about how much it snowed or how horrible the roads were, but I do want to talk about how the snow is now melting drip by drip off the edge of the roof. Sometimes a few drops will drip in unison, other times in succession. They remind me of a hand-bell choir. I wonder what song they would make if each drop dripped a note on the scale. Would it be a lament for winter? Or an anthem for spring’s arrival?

The Christmas cactus I bought as a gift for a friend (that I never had a chance to see at Christmas because of Covid) still sits in my kitchen window. It bloomed this week. The brilliant pink blossom looked like an exotic bird from some distant tropical jungle, and even though Christmas came and went ages ago, this blossom was the best possible gift for this week. There are two more budding gifts and now I’m not sure my friend will ever see this particular plant.

Sometimes I need to leave my thoughts in a muddled mess of words on the pages of a notebook I can close and walk away from. And sometimes I need to leave all the messes of the world (beginning with my own heart) at the foot of the cross and focus on the small but extraordinary blessings each day contains. Often I can view the messes with more clarity and understanding when I filter them through the lens of God’s intended goodness for his creation.

☀️ Lonely Places

Sunday Doxology

Praise to you, Lord of the lonely places of quiet solitude where you chose to withdraw for prayer. For rest.

I am drawn to these places, too, because I always find you there and am renewed. Restored.

But sometimes lonely places barge in the door, drop baggage on the floor and invade us with the deep ache of isolation, of exclusion, of being uninvited, unnoticed, unliked, unfriended…

Here solitude stings. Doesn’t soothe.

Praise to you, Lord, even in these insidious lonely places because your hand still guides us, your right hand still holds us fast. Because you are forever and always Emmanuel — God with us — we are never alone.

☕️ Snippets

A Saturday Caesura

Some weeks happen all helter-skelter. Undone to-dos, interruptions, diversions, uh-ohs, and not-agains. Normal stuff occurring with abnormal frequency. Even the weather tried to squeeze all four seasons into a single week. Life seems more manageable when everything practices distancing, takes turns, behaves in orderly and predictable ways.

My thoughts were helter-skelter, too. None of the usual slow mulling and processing of an idea, an image. Just snippets of this and that — some that stuck and some that slid away.

Snippet: I was riding my bike on the indoor trainer upstairs. I look out the window, but the scenery doesn’t scroll by like it usually does when I cycle outdoors. The neighbour’s house just sits there. So do the barren trees, the snow, the fence, the street off to the left. It is boring. But that day I noticed that the snow was pockmarked with little indentations, like a scatter plot with a cluster under one tree and a spray of them in all directions from there. Each indentation was where a sparrow or a red poll sat to munch on a seed from the bird feeder. The word that came to mind when I saw all these mini-dining spots was feast. A feast spread across a yard-sized table. I lingered on the word feast — it felt rich and welcoming.

Snippet: Dean always does the supper dishes as I clean up and put food away. One evening, an evening when I had after-supper plans of my own, the kitchen sink clogged when Dean tried to drain the water. What followed was well over an hour of checking sections of drain, ramming first the small snake and then the big long unruly one through pipes with strange angles until finally the water flowed, drained, disappeared like it was supposed to. My plans? Forgotten. Neither of us could have done that job alone. Sometimes love and commitment looks like wrestling snakes and unclogging drains together.

Snippet: my writing and art have happened in snippets between the demands of teaching school, but each snippet of time has been soul-nourishing. After a season of questioning why I write or draw, I’ve started a project that seems like a perfect fit for my “jots & doodles” and it has renewed my vision for being a faithful steward of the abilities God has given. I’ll share more about this project next week!

Snippet: Because our annual teacher’s convention this week was virtual, I had a rare opportunity to go for a weekday lunchtime walk and on my walk I met a girl who was walking her puppy. Puppies are adorable. This puppy looked like he had a significant share of Jack Russell genes and had no concept of “stranger danger.” He was full-body wiggles and tongue-slapping smiles and isn’t-this-the-BEST-day-ever and can-I-be-your-BFF and isn’t-life-just-GLORIOUS! And I walked away feeling exactly all that but with the wiggles on the inside, smiles sans the tongue thing.

Snippet: I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Ps. 27:13

☕️ What’s in a Name?

A Saturday Caesura

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love mountains. Even as a child, all that rock and snow and majesty captivated me, saturated my soul with goodness. I eventually learned that some mountains have names, and being able to call a mountain by its name somehow made it more of a friend than the other nameless ones. I viewed maps and learned the names of more mountains and that mountain families were called ranges, and then I read books and learned that mountains weren’t just piles of snow-capped rock; they had features as distinct as my nose and eyes and freckles. Peak, alpine, glacier — those were the most obvious ones, but then I learned about seracs and scree, cirques, saddles, and cols. And fun-to-pronounce names like krummholz, bergschrund, arête, and nunatak. Mountains still captivate me, heart and soul, but they are no longer generic entities imposing their glorious mystery onto the landscape. When I look at a mountain or hike to its summit, I now name what I see and yearn to learn more.

So I’ve been thinking about naming and the difference it makes when I don’t see just a tumult of colour in a sub-alpine meadow, but I’m able to say, “Why hello, Moss Campion and Pink Mountain Heather and lovely little Wintergreen.” (I like to think that I’m on such friendly terms with flowers that I needn’t bother with their formal, scientific names). Likewise, the vast night sky seems less vast and unknowable when I recognize Big Dipper, North Star, and Orion’s Belt.

Naming is an invitation to move from abstract, general knowledge to a deeper form of knowing that gives us language for the stories through which we share our learning and our experiences. Naming can be a matter of utility and function, as is the jargon specific to vocation, profession, business, politics, and sport, but even more than the practical and necessary, naming can be a way of paying attention. And paying attention is a way of knowing our world. Paying attention is a way of halting the blur of activity and productivity. Naming and knowing help us prioritize presence over performance.

And this practice of presence is why naming has become more important to me. Where my devices encourage me to scroll, swipe, refresh, repeat, naming forces me to get the binoculars and look closely — is that a Cedar Waxwing or a Bohemian Waxwing? Where my day-to-day life pushes me to go, go, be, do, naming makes me be still and listen — is that insect-like buzzing a Grasshopper Sparrow or a Clay-coloured Sparrow? Naming invites me to turn from the distractions and enticements of the faraway and beyond to focus on the people and places right here in this small but endlessly knowable piece of creation where I live.

I do not wonder that one of the tasks given to Adam in the garden was to name the other creatures. I think God wanted Adam to have intimate knowledge of the world he was placed in because that world, then and now, points to the Creator who knows our names, who is himself present with us.